Monthly Archives: March 2018

DON’T THINK IT STRANGE (2)

       “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to                   try you, as though some strange thing has happened to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

Yes, but we do think it strange! We don’t think that way every moment but when serious pain or loss enters we cry out and want it to stop. The Hebrew writer voiced that sense of things for us when he said of Jesus (5:8), “Though He was a Son yet He learned obedience by the things He suffered.” Despite the fact that He was God’s Son He suffered—one wouldn’t have thought He would since He was God’s Son—but He did!
The Temptation narrative has Satan voicing the same thing. The particle can be rendered “if” or “since”—context determines. Either works here. “If you’re God’s Son you shouldn’t be going hungry; turn the stones into bread!” More than three psalmists (see 22, 44 & 88) speak our minds. The psalmists wonder how things could be going so bad with them when they were part of a covenanted people. They knew they weren’t sinless but they also knew that God knew they were sinners when He made a covenant with them. Psalm 22 and 88 are more individualistic than 44. When agony came on them they laid it at God’s feet (Job does the same thing and so does God who “put forth His hand” and took from Job all He had given him—42:11 with 1:11-12; 2:5-6).
Psalmists and prophets could understand that when the nation apostatizes God may well respond in severe chastisement (Psalm 106 & Amos 4 illustrate). In such circumstances we speak of it as “punishment” but there were those who were bewildered because they hadn’t walked away from God, had held Him to be their God since they were born (Psalm 22:1-10). “Why me?” they want to know. “What have I done that this should come on me? Don’t you love me?” These protests, this bewilderment triggered by anguish is not strange. It makes good sense! Peter can say all he wants about it not being strange but we don’t believe him or at least, we don’t understand him.
In the great movie Glory Thomas is a young black gentleman, well-read and sensitive to what is going on in the world (his father being a fervent abolitionist). He is a close and long-time friend of Robert Gould Shaw who came to be the colonel-commander of the first African-American division in the northern army during the civil war. Thomas is the first man to enlist when he heard his boyhood friend is heading up that company but he discovers that his boyhood friend has now become his commanding officer and will not permit friendly fraternizing. Thomas is stunned, it is experienced as rejection and we see it on his face. Half astonishment, half bewilderment and total disbelief. His face says it all: “What? Did I do something? What did I do? It’s me, Thomas, your dear friend since boyhood…”

He was the only black gentleman in the entire regiment that felt isolated and he felt isolated and mistreated precisely because he had had and still felt from his perspective a special relationship with the commander of the force. He was anguished not because the commander was treating him differently from all his fellows but because the leader was not treating him differently. After all, they had history, a long standing relationship—friendship must mean something. Through a long painful period he comes to understand why he can’t be given special treatment; but it is through and via a long agonizing period that he learns it. And there’s this: he bonds with his fellows who never knew the blessing of the intimacy, the warmth and friendship of anyone with such power as the colonel. His privileged place and comfort had robbed him of understanding of and fellowship with his brothers. The movie closes with the leader, Thomas and the entire company marching together in glorious unity of heart and purpose. But it was through pain! Anguish!

Yes, but, why through pain, why anguish?

(To be continued, God enabling)

(Holy Father, who through pain and anguish sought us, help us to understand that we might honor you and sing your praises in a strange land.)

 

DON’T THINK IT STRANGE (1)

Jesus took Himself very seriously. You know that. Make your own list of the things He said about Himself. I wish here to focus on His claim that the entire OT was really about Him (John 5:39-40, 46). In Luke 24:25-27, 44-49 He said it was all about Him, about His suffering and the glory that would follow. In the Luke 24:25 He rebukes His distressed followers for not taking into account all that the prophets foretold. (We need to take 24:44 into account when reading that rebuke.)

Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 makes the point that Jesus died and rose in keeping with the Scriptures. He does the same thing in Romans 1:1-4 and in Acts 26:22-23. Peter does the same thing in 1 Peter 1:10-11, 20. You’ll remember how Jesus trenchantly rebuked Peter in Matthew 16:21-24 when the disciple took issue with Christ’s talk of suffering and death. Peter thought it strange talk for a Messiah but he later learned better and told God’s new chosen People, “Think it not strange that you undergo great suffering—it isn’t strange; you are sharing Christ’s sufferings.” 1 Peter 4:12-14.

Two things (among others) are clear. First, the sufferings and death of Christ were a total surprise even to (perhaps especially to) His followers and Jesus understood that suffering & death were part of what He was appointed to. None of it surprised Him. “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour.” John 12:27, speaking of His suffering and death and more than that. Another conversation for another time, God enabling.

Secondly, that the apostolic gospel included the truth that His suffering and death were no chance events—they were foreknown and took place in accordance with God’s redemptive purpose. Peter to the crowd about Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection in Acts 2:23-47, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you…crucified and put to death; whom God raised up…” The entire section needs to be read, including 2:38 where baptism is the Spirit-appointed way of acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus via the God-appointed suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that brought and brings forgiveness to sinners.

The apostolic gospel stressed Jesus’ death and resurrection as the fulfillment of  not just a verse or two here and there in the OT, but the entire drift of it. If Israel had known who they were and what their place in the desperately sinful and ignorant world was they would have expected to experience suffering and rejection—it came with the “job”. They were assigned to be the “covenant” and light-bringer to the world via their faithfulness (Isaiah 49) and they via their unfaithfulness became part of the problem and went after other gods. Yet there were those in the nation who remained faithful to God and were called to bring Israel back to God and so bless the world (again, Isaiah 49). Jesus (who is God being a man—David’s son according to the flesh, Romans 1:1-4) was and is the embodiment of all that Israel was to be, Abraham’s child (Galatians 3:16), was to bear rejection, suffering and death that was the fruit of the Sin of the world.

In His suffering and death He was exposing the evil world for what it was (John 12:31). Apart from God and His gracious work in human life there is only lies and deception, loss of honor and life, abuse and alienation from one another, cruelty and corruption. That is the “world” of which Satan is the prince and it ends with nothing but Death. The Godhead purposed that as Jesus of Nazareth, the Son, for humanity’s sake would share their agony and in that way expose such a world, experience its inevitable end (death) and then rise as its conqueror, as the Lord of a new creation that will be consummated at His return though such glory is currently hidden. (None of this has anything to do with God punishing Jesus.)

[To be continued, God enabling.]